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October 9, 2002
Louisville, Kentucky

The annual fall meeting of the AFB Textbooks and Instructional Materials Solutions Forum met in Louisville, Kentucky, on Wednesday, October 9, 2002. Mary Ann Siller (AFB Solutions Forum Project Director) opened the session. A full afternoon was planned and participants enthusiastically embraced the agenda. The agenda included updates about critical issues and work group breakout sessions. The Legislative and Policy-Making, Electronic Files, Training, and Production work groups met in small groups. The Communication and Collaboration Work Group had representatives in each group.

The AFB Solutions Forum Textbooks and Instructional Materials Tool Kit

The AFB Solutions Forum Tool Kit was presented to the group by Marie Amerson (Communication and Collaboration Work Group Facilitator). This outstanding resource has been made possible by the generous support of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind and the Communication and Collaboration Work Group. The 230 + page portfolio is an outstanding resource and is intended to be used by publishers, state education personnel, textbook administrators and others to provide information about the issues, solutions and resources associated with access and timely delivery of textbooks and instructional materials for visually impaired students. Several copies have already been distributed and production of additional copies is expected to be completed by December 2002. All participants at the meeting wanted their own copy of the Tool Kit. If you did not attend the meeting on October 9 and want the Tool Kit, please e-mail Mary Ann at . In addition, the Communication and Collaboration Work Group members asked constituents to send names and addresses of key state/community leaders who should receive the Tool Kit. Marie asked for the names to be sent to Mary Ann Siller at . It was noted that all materials in the portfolio may be copied and distributed as needed. Consideration will also be given to providing all of the content of the portfolio in electronic format, including possibly through the AFB Solutions Forum Web sites.

AFB Training Series for Braille Transcribers

Training for braille transcribers in the use of publishers’ electronic files has been a key program activity of the Electronic Files and Training Work Groups. Betsy Burnham (National Braille Association/APH and project leader) spoke about the training manual that was developed in the last year by key experts knowledgeable with the braille translation software and publishers’ files and the series of pilot workshops given throughout the country. The braille transcribers writing the content included Susan Christensen, Joanna Venneri, Diane Spence, and Betsy Burnham. To date, seventy-five braille transcribers have received the training and the technical assistance that accompanied the training. An additional session was held on October, 12 and 13 for the Association of Instructional Resource Centers’ braille transcribers. Thirty-eight attended the session. Thirty-eight states have been represented in the year-long training segments. Plans are being made by AFB to incorporate the manual into a self-paced, web-based training program on AFB’s Web site.

The AFB and Verizon National Campaign for Literacy, Textbooks, Transcribers and Technology

The new public awareness campaign for the Solutions Forum was highlighted by Mary Ann. The AFB and Verizon National Campaign for Literacy, Textbooks, Transcribers and Technology is a three-year campaign to provide broad public awareness of the importance of timely access to textbooks and instructional materials for blind and low-vision students and to promote the new technology-based career—braille textbook transcriber. Verizon’s significant commitment will bring these key issues into the public domain and provide an important platform for change. The Campaign spokesperson and Verizon Literacy Champion is Erik Weihenmayer and features the theme, “Literacy lets you reach the summit of your dreams.”

A letter of support from First Lady Laura Bush was read and the AFB-Verizon advocacy video was shown.

The kickoff was on October 3 in Washington, D.C. The first phase of the campaign is the “Call to Action.” Become a spokesperson and advocate for the hiring of braille textbook transcribers to state elected and appointed officials, agency directors and state board of education members. A campaign packet includes a Verizon Literacy poster, advocacy video, bookmark, Touch the Top of the World by Erik Weihenmayer, and briefing papers. All participants wanted the Call to Action packet. If you did not attend the October 9 meeting and want the packet, e-mail Mary Ann at . These will begin to be mailed in December 2002.

Among other direct activities, the campaign will include placing the Verizon Literacy Champion poster in Verizon phone stores across the United States, targeting the national media, developing additional videos and public service announcements, working with national and state leaders to replicate the college curriculum in other states, and working with state and federal policymakers and advocates to make sure braille textbook transcribers are part of employment options throughout the United States.

The AFB Solutions Forum is sensitive to the concern that volunteer transcribers have been and continue to be an important part of the solution of getting accessible educational materials to students. It was noted that the new braille textbook transcriber career is building a defined future for braille transcribing and addressing a clear need to increase the capacity of production and delivery of textbooks and instructional materials while eliminating the shortage of braille transcribers. This will build a base for all print materials to be accessible in braille, including the critical need for college students to have well formatted accessible materials.

IMAA

The IMAA’s recent developments were reviewed by Mark Richert (Legislative Facilitator and Executive Director--AER) and Paul Schroeder (Vice President for Governmental Relations--AFB). Unfortunately, in spite of great effort on the part of the blindness field, the IMAA legislation did not pass this year.

Because of the outstanding work of the advocates in the AFB Solutions Forum to reach out to citizens throughout the United States and the dedication of the core legislative team (AAP, ACB, AER, AFB, APH, NFB, RFB&D), we had approximately 90 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 22 cosponsors in the Senate. The Solutions Forum and the field of blindness were extremely responsive to the numerous requests by the core group to mobilize their constituents on this issue. Everyone’s tireless efforts and dedication were recognized.

In spite of strong support of cosponsors in the House and Senate, the IMAA did not move out of committee this year. However, the core legislative team will work with the lead sponsors (Dodd and Petri) to consider appropriate options for achieving the requirements contained in the IMAA in the next Congressional session.

After concerns about IMAA were expressed by the Department of Education, representatives of the legislative core group met several times from August to October 2, 2002 with DOE officials, including Dr. Robert Pasternack, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS). DOE staff as well as House Committee staff expressed opposition to IMAA’s establishment of a new federal program. The central repository and to preempt any state law (even for the narrow purpose of imposing a file format requirement) were issues that they were questioning. In addition, Dr. Pasternack initially indicated that he was not convinced that textbooks and instructional materials were significantly being delayed or not in the primary learning medium of the student. Finally, Dr. Pasternack seemed to take the view that the electronic file format standard developed under the IMAA should be broadly applicable for all students with disabilities.

At a meeting in early October, Assistant Secretary Pasternack told the core legislative group that they had decided to provide funding to an entity to develop a “voluntary” technical file format standard appropriate for universal design. The Center for Applied Special Technologies (CAST) is the organization being given the grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Skip Stahl, co-director, Universal Learning Center with CAST, sent information to Mary Ann to be read at the Solutions Forum meeting about the grant from the U.S. Department of Education. CAST is an AFB Solutions Forum partner. The following two paragraphs are from CAST.

The U.S. Department of Education, through its Office of Special Education Programs in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, has awarded funds to the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum (BCAC) at CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology) in Wakefield, Massachusetts, to establish a voluntary national standard for accessible digital instructional materials for K-12 students with disabilities.

CAST, in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) at the Department of Commerce, will convene an advisory panel of publishers, disability advocates, assistive technology developers, producers of curriculum materials for students with special needs, data transformation experts, and state representatives. During FY 2002 this panel will identify a set of technical specifications to facilitate the efficient delivery of accessible instructional materials, a time line for the implementation of the proposed standards, and a process for assessing the success of standards implementation. The Secretary of Education will publish the proposed standards in the Federal Register for public comment.

Although this initiative with CAST will help to define a single electronic file format, the AFB Solutions Forum and core legislative group will continue to call for national legislation for a mandatory standard file format, national repository of publishers’ files, guidelines to states and grants for capacity building. In response to a question about individual states adopting a standard electronic file format to be required from publishers, it was noted that the IMAA core group and the AFB Solutions Forum have agreed that a national solution is necessary.

It is expected that the key groups in the AFB Solutions Forum and core legislative group will be represented on the advisory panel. The AFB Solutions Forum has made recommendations to CAST as to the key groups needed in the process, including braille transcribers, instructional materials centers, braille software developers, braille production centers, consumers, parents, and educators who should be on the panel.

In spite of the negative-sounding news, Mark and Paul suggested that it is important to recognize the “wins” within the IMAA effort. We will be in a much stronger position next year as a result of all the advocacy work on the IMAA. It is likely that IMAA-based requirements will be attached to IDEA next year and that may be good for the effort.

It will be important to find NEW ways to vocalize the problems associated with accessible educational materials, as well as what efforts are currently in place to ensure that students do not have more problems with accessible textbooks. Continued dialogue with the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), local state departments of education, legislators, and the U.S. Department of Education will be important. As noted by Paul, Mark and Mary Ann, it is also important that we “don’t give up hope.” As we proceed in 2003, go to www.afb.org/textbooks.asp for updated information about the IMAA.

As part of the effort to achieve the goals of the IMAA in 2003, it is important for us to improve our efforts in communicating the problems in access to instructional materials to the media. We need a stronger effort to develop media stories about accessible educational materials within local communities. As stories are placed, please make sure that copies are sent to the AFB Solutions Forum—send them to Mary Ann at AFB, 260 Treadway Plaza, Dallas, Texas 75235 or by fax at 214-352-3214.

IMAA---Guidelines to Help States

Concern about the requirement of a “state plan” for the implementation of IMAA was discussed. It was suggested that alternate wording for this requirement should be explored. The full AFB Solutions Forum worked on developing a list of features which might be considered critical for such a plan. The legislative work group expanded on these efforts later in the afternoon. The legislative work group suggested that rather than asking for a “state plan,” states would be required to develop implementation strategies or an implementation model. Strategies suggested by Solutions Forum participants were incorporated into a model developed in the work group with much of the information falling into one of four categories: coordination, information dissemination, funding, or enforcement. The legislative work group also discussed updating the IMAA 2002 FAQ fact sheet. Paul and Mark agreed to take the lead on this task.

Electronic Files Work Group

The Electronic Files Work Group, led by Jim Allan (facilitator) and Lucia Hasty reviewed information for a tactile graphics fact sheet. Several efforts are underway by various entities to develop standards for tactile graphics. It was decided to condense suggested statements to provide a 2-4 page document that could be used by transcribers, publishers, educators, and others to better understand standards of tactile graphics and resources that are available.

Training and Production Work Groups

The Training and Production Work Groups met together under the leadership of Lorri Quigley and Larry Brown (facilitators). The group first tackled the development of information for a recruitment brochure for the braille textbook transcriber career. The group addressed several questions, including:

  1. What are the rewards you receive from doing your job (as a braille transcriber)?
  2. Why do you think it is important to establish a formal college program and career for braille textbook transcribing?
  3. How do you think your contributions as a braille transcriber affect the education of blind and low-vision school children?
  4. What skills are performed by a braille transcriber?

As the group brainstormed possible points to be used in response to those questions, information was discussed as it was posted on the screen. The group indicated that a recruitment brochure will need to answer questions such as “What is braille?” and “What is a transcriber?” as well as provide information about prospective employers/job opportunities, key abilities needed by a transcriber, technical skills needed, flexibility/ability to work from home, and potential to transfer skills to mainstream activities (i.e. publisher’s tasks related to file preparation). The group also noted that information about the current availability of braille books, the impact of a lack of accessible materials on students, and realistic time lines about the career should be included. Format for the recruitment brochure should include sample braille and consideration should be given to alternate recruiting formats (video, CD, posters). Distribution of recruitment materials could include having transcribers and blind people attend career days/job fairs.

It was suggested that a video describing the process from print to braille textbook would be helpful and would highlight the important role of a braille textbook transcriber. The idea of a video showing the process was also discussed by the legislative work group who suggested two components: one showing the process without publishers’ files, noting Day #1 for this, Day #2, on through Day #50 or whatever until the book is in the student’s hands; the other component would use the same format to show the process when publishers’ files are available for the book requested.

The Training and Production Work Groups also developed information for an advocacy paper to support braille textbook production. Suggested points include: explaining the impact on students when they don’t have accessible materials on time; the importance of accessible materials as it relates to “Reading First” and “No Child Left Behind;” show visually impaired students reading as they are involved in activities such as scouting or other after-school programs; advocate for images of visually impaired students reading to be included on Web sites related to “No Child Left Behind;” note the importance of early literacy activities; and the opportunity for children to read and reread books. The following statement was also included: “braille is literacy, literacy is knowledge, and knowledge is power.”

As always, the AFB Solutions Forum work groups accomplished a great deal. Work group leaders met later with Mary Ann Siller to discuss results of the individual work groups and to identify next steps to finish the tasks. One important activity will be dissemination of information from the Solutions Forum and the continuation of telling the story of why this issue is so important to students who are visually impaired. If you have a contact with professional journals, local news media, legislative staff, and others, please contact Mary Ann Siller or Marie Amerson at for information on how you can help tell the story and promote the work of the AFB Solutions Forum.

The work groups will complete their projects addressed at the fall meeting and noted in the annual plan for 2002-2003 through e-mail and conference calls. To review the numerous activities identified by each group, go to www.afb.org/education.asp. At this time, the next formal in-person meeting will be in October 2003 in Louisville, Kentucky. For updated information, go to www.afb.org/education.asp.